The Manila Times - Bongbong and the continuing contempt of the Supreme Court

News & Interviews
21 November 2020

By Mauro Gia Samonte | The Manila Times

UNDER paragraph 2 of Section 1, Article VIII of the Constitution, “judicial power” includes not only the “duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable” but also “to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the government.”

This provision of the 1987 Constitution comes to mind with the recent filing by a businessman from Lucena of a petition at the Supreme Court seeking to cite the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) and the Asset Pool A (SPV-AMC) Inc. in contempt.

The businessman, Felix Chua, owns a large tract of land in the city, which he had placed under common ownership with Asset Pool A by virtue of a joint venture agreement for developing the property into a subdivision years ago. Somewhere along the way, certain hitches developed so that the development plan never materialized. However, the suit contends that Asset Pool A had used the signed deal to secure a loan from the UCPB, with the Chua property as collateral. Evidently for non-payment of the loan by Asset Pool A, the property was eventually foreclosed by UCPB. Chua contested the foreclosure in court — from the Regional Trial Court of Lucena, to the Court of Appeals and all the way up to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, the high court ruled the foreclosure illegal and ordered the return of the property to Chua.

Again I am constrained to view this development in light of the reported intransigence of Associate Justice Marvic Mario Victor Leonen in holding on as the ponente of the electoral protest of former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. against Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo. No need to cite here the details of the protest; everybody knows it. It has been there since 2016 and the minute Leonen was assigned to the case, he has sat on it for the past 12 months or so.

In the Chua case, it had been five years since then. Three times the Supreme Court ruled the subsequent motions for reconsideration of the respondents illegal, the first one filed on Aug. 16, 2017 being decided by Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin on Dec. 17, 2018; the second one, on July 24, 2019, issued with admonitions that “no further pleadings, motions or letters or other communications would be entertained in connection with the case”; and the third one on Jan. 29, 2020 ordering “to expunge from the records of the case the joint third motion for reconsideration of UCPB and Asset Pool A for being a prohibited pleading.”

But in utter defiance of the admonitions, lawyers of both the UCPB and Asset Pool A filed a fourth motion for reconsideration on June 16, 2020, asking for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and/or status quo ante order to stop the execution of the August 2017 decision.

Hence the Chua petition to declare UCPB and Asset Pool A in contempt of court.

Named respondents in the petition are UCPB officer in charge Ludivino S. Geron, lawyer Ismael Andrew P. Isip, and Asset Pool A (SPV-AMC), represented by its president Siu Hung and lawyer Hortensio G. Domingo.

That should bring out the interesting confluence between the two cases above. Not only are these cases right at the Supreme Court, but they also bear upon each other such that a ruling on one could be setting a precedent for a ruling on the other.

For what is Chua complaining about in his petition? That UCPB’s and Asset Pool A’s continuous filing of motions for reconsideration despite the Supreme Court’s strong admonition that the decision on the case was final and executory constitutes contempt of court. In the event the Supreme Court rules that UCPB and Asset Pool A are, as pleaded by Chua, in contempt of court, does that not set the precedent for ostensible legal suits being declared in contempt of the very court such suits are filed at?

In simpler terms, it does not mean that all because a case is legally filed in court, it is per se legal.

Not necessarily meaning it, the Chua petition opens up new horizons in jurisprudence: legal suits can actually be in contempt, indeed, of the very court they are filed in.

In this sense, therefore, when the Chua petition is upheld, Bongbong is given the jurisprudential precedent to petition the Supreme Court to declare Leonen in contempt of court for the latter’s utter inaction on the former’s electoral protest.

Next question is, can the Supreme Court declare a part of itself in contempt of itself?

Why not? That’s precisely what the opening paragraph of this discussion states, to reiterate: “Under paragraph 2 of Section 1, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution “judicial power” includes not only the “duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable” but also “to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the government.”

In the Bongbong case, has not Leonen been committing “grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction?”

Isn’t the Presidential Electoral Tribunal a “branch or instrumentality of the government?” Isn’t the ponente of the same likewise?

The Supreme Court may very well be petitioned by any taxpayer to declare Leonen guilty of “grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.”

There have been suggestions that due to the long period consumed by the Chua case, an out-of-court settlement between the parties seems already called for. For Chua perhaps, this might be the best option under the circumstances.

But if it is Chua’s intention to really pursue justice, then better than the best is bring his petition to its logical end — to declare in contempt those that have been bastardizing processes at the high court.

For Bongbong, that should amount to battle half-won already.